New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie Drops Gay Marriage Appeal

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Chris Christie

Hollywood political darling Cory Booker, who was just elected to the U.S. Senate, officiated at several weddings at Newark's City Hall on Monday.

LAMBERTVILLE, N.J. -- Gov. Chris Christie dropped his appeal to legalized same-sex marriages on Monday, hours after gay couples began immediately taking advantage of a court ruling that compelled the state to become the 14th in the nation to recognize same-sex nuptials.

The couples who have been together for years, and in some cases decades, joined in hastily arranged ceremonies that had remained in doubt until Friday when a unanimous state Supreme Court rejected the Christie administration's request to delay the implementation date of same-sex weddings.

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Last month, a lower-court judge ruled that New Jersey must recognize gay marriages starting Monday.

The Republican governor, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, had been asking the state's top court to overturn that ruling and not to force the state to recognize same-sex marriage until the appeal was resolved.

The court agreed to hear the overall case in January but announced Friday it would not delay the start of the marriages, in part because it said the state is not likely to prevail in its arguments next year.

In an e-mail Monday morning, the governor's office said it was withdrawing its appeal because the chief justice on Friday left no ambiguity about the court's view.

Christie's administration said he strongly disagrees with the court substituting "its judgment for the constitutional process of the elected branches or a vote of the people." But he said Friday's ruling showed the Supreme Court was clearly going to favor same-sex marriage and that he has a constitutional duty to enforce the law.

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The couples married Monday can receive all the state and federal benefits of marriage, including being allowed to file tax returns jointly and receiving Social Security survivor benefits.

At Newark's City Hall, where seven gay couples and two heterosexual couples were wed, there was a brief disruption from a protester who cried out, "This is unlawful in the eyes of God and Jesus Christ" before Mayor Cory Booker, a Democrat elected last week to the U.S. Senate, declared Gabriela Celeiro and Liz Salerno "lawful spouses." After the protester was removed, the mayor, choking up, paused, put his hand over his heart and said, "This is very beautiful."

Lawmakers are still trying to override Christie's 2012 veto of the bill to allow the marriages.

The first ceremonies also served as celebrations for gay rights advocates and their allies in the legislature.